A few months ago we had that Home Energy Performance Test done by the folks at Imagine Energy. We ended up with all sorts of valuable information, much of which we are still mulling over and putting to work. In addition to the analysis of the different facets of our house; insulation, mechanicals, ventilation, I really have valued the energy breakdowns. Our energy usage was parsed several different ways, including by fuels (natural gas and electricity), on a consumption basis, usage basis (heating, hot water, plugs) and a cost break down. It costs us $1032 per year to power our house, with heating being our highest expense at $398 per year, and hot water and plugs being quite close at $235 and $251 respectively. Note, these numbers aren’t our total utilities, so water, sewer and garbage are in addition to the $1032. No wonder it seems kind of inexpensive.
Before the housing crisis hit, Oregon, and Portland in particular, was poised to institute some “point of sale” energy efficiency standards; one with regard to the efficiency of furnaces and the second an energy rating system of homes, letting buyers know estimates of future energy use in advance of their purchase. Our sister “green” city, Austin, Texas has energy conservation audits in place in certain, and most real estate transactions. Yes, there is a place in the United States that may well be greener than Portland, and it is in Texas!
Homeowners in Oregon, in conjunction with the Earth Advantage Institute and The Energy Trust of Oregon, have used the Energy Performance Score voluntarily. The idea of a point of sale standard on home energy performance reporting is coming up again, not so much a result of an improving real estate market, but more I think, a result of increased energy consciousness. Representative Ben Cannon recently introduced House Bill 3535 which contains a variety of energy efficiency measure beyond just the Energy Performance Score. It isn’t clear how far the bill will get in this session.
The Home Energy Performance Score may well be linked, through an easy “one stop shopping” center, giving home sellers and home buyers easy to understand information and buying opportunities to improve a house’s energy efficiency. Many of us think energy efficiency is only driven by expensive upgrades such as new furnaces and replacement windows. But even small tweaks can bring noticeable efficiencies. From our Home Performance Test we learned of leaks in the duct work of our heating system ( in our home built in 2003). Caulk and mastic are not expensive, and can make a huge difference when applied to the right areas by someone who knows what they are doing. We noticed warmer rooms and less drafts immediately.
As you might imagine, there are many different opinions on a mandated Energy Performance Score. Per a recent article in the Portland Tribune, t he evaluation to arrive at the “score” is estimated to cost anywhere from $200 to $400. And whether a seller gets the evaluation done prior to marketing the home, or a buyer has it completed as a part of their professional inspections, the cost increase the amount of money it takes to transact a real estate sale.
Point of sale regulations and standards of practice are an efficient way to catch certain issues and property conditions. The State of Oregon now requires both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms (starting April 1, 2011) be installed in a property before the title transfers. These are arguably very valuable tools that should be in place in a home. And while it isn’t regulated, oil tanks tests in real estate transactions turn up, and cause to be cleaned up, many leaking underground heating oil tanks. And sewer scopes in the city of Portland cause many “party” sewers to be separated every year (the City of Portland requires party sewers be separated within 180 days of discovery). The list could go on. The point being, real estate transactions can be an easy and, in a sense efficient, way to improve both individual properties and the quality of our overall housing stock.